Fewer votes; more power

9 05 2010

Category; Politics

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a third party in possession of good electoral fortune, must be in want of proportional representation…

The desire Britain’s Liberal Democrats have for PR goes unquestioned; its reasons are obvious – a fairer voting system that will lead to a fair allocation of seats reflecting the wish of the electorate.

They won 23% of the vote in the 2010 election but took less than 9% of the seats in the House of Commons; sounds very unfair, and it is.

But there is a false assumption at the heart of the Liberal Democrat arguments for PR. It doesn’t necessarily undermine the argument but it does put another spin on Liberal Democrats’ advocacy of reform…

If Britain had PR, the Liberal Democrats share of the vote would shrivel…

In systems with proportional representation third parties do not achieve the share of the vote the Liberal Democrats do under Britain’s current system.  Why that is is open to all sorts of interpretation but the fact that we have a first past the post system is a significant factor. Under PR it would be likely to settle at a similar level to Germany’s Free Democrats, at under 15%.

Under a first past the post system the 3rd party becomes the repository for all disaffected votes as they are the ‘alternative’. With PR, smaller parties that are more focused start to pick up more support as supporters see they are now likely to have elected representatives.

There is also the paradox that many voters vote for the Liberal Democrats precisely because they are unlikely to actually be put into office – the protest vote.

So why would a political party advocate a policy that could see a halving of its popular support? I suspect the main reason is that it hasn’t occurred to many Liberal Democrats. They see they get 23% of the vote now and under PR with the same share they would have 150 seats rather than the 57 they currently have.

The other reason is that the result they seek from PR is less votes, and more power. Single party majority government would become a thing of the past as the larger parties are forced to seek coalitions to gain a majority. Like the Free Democrats in Germany they would have  status that far outweighed their share of the popular vote and their leaders would be in government for much of the time.

Swapping a system where they are permanently excluded from government to one where they are permanently included; you can see the attraction.

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